Thursday, May 26, 2016

John Pilati: A Classic Case of Misdirection?

Misdirection? It’s a magician, or even a murderer, making the audience look in one direction while he or she actually performs the intended, but furtive, action. Could misdirection be what John Frederick Pilati’s quest for reinstatement to the Alabama Bar was all about?

Pilati served one term as Franklin County District Attorney before being convicted of a federal misdemeanor and losing his political rights. He later was convicted of five more federal misdemeanors and required to register as a sex offender.

In March of this year, the State of Alabama restored Pilati’s political rights, but not his right to own or possess a firearm. At that time, we had two questions about the matter, but obtaining any information has been difficult at best.

Our first question: Does one automatically lose political rights if convicted of a federal misdemeanor? The federal attorney’s office in Birmingham refused to answer our questions without an official written request from an attorney, so we’ll just say that apparently the state does rescind these rights since a federal misdemeanor is so much more serious than a misdemeanor committed at the local level.

Our second question asked how the state was entitled to restore rights removed by a federal conviction or to remove a miscreant from the sex offenders’ registry. Again, we have no official answer. We can say that there is no federal sex offender registry—only the state’s. It would seem logical that the state could remove an offender placed there by the federal government if it so desired. It could also restore political rights within the state.

We were mildly surprised that Pilati did not have his right to own a firearm restored, but perhaps the state had its reasons. Here’s a comment that appeared on our FB page:

17 years ago, when I was 16, I was riding the Russellville strip when this man in an unmarked suv with no lights or markers ran my car off the road and almost killed me. I, being young, dumb, and full of testosterone followed him and confronted him about it. So the man pulls a gun on me and says "I'm John Pilati, the D.A. of Franklin County and you're interfering with an investigation." I wasn't interfering with anything. I just wanted to know why this guy tried to wreck me and kill me. After his cronies ran my license they finally let me go. This guy's a joke and will put other people's lives on the line just so he can arrest somebody. He never needs to work in politics or law enforcement again. He's got a short fuse and is a danger to society.

Apparently the first inkling many in Franklin County and the Shoals had of Pilati’s restored political rights came when the Franklin County School Board chose the former DA as one of three candidates for the county board of equalization. Let’s think about this; who on the school board nominated Pilati? How did this member even know that Pilati was now entitled to serve on the board and how did he/she know that Pilati would even want to serve? Obviously Pilati was approaching various Franklin County citizens in his attempt to return to public life.

An article in the Franklin County Times then related Pilati’s quest to return to the practice of law. Yes, that was the official reason for Pilati seeking to have his political rights restored and his name removed from the sex offender registry. Was that the only reason?

Only around 50% of disbarred attorneys in this state who seek to return to an actual law practice are able to do so. Pilati also had to have known he would have at least a modicum of strong opposition.

Does Pilati need the money? His family owns Pilati Investments which controls a local television station and the Franklin Free Press which John Pilati runs. Pilati himself, along with a partner, owns Golden Tiger Properties, a company involved in various land sales. The practice of law can be tedious for the most dedicated of attorneys; does the former Franklin DA fall into that dedicated category?

From anecdotal evidence, Pilati often participated in the day to day police operations of Franklin County. Do you ever hear of the Lauderdale DA appearing personally at the raid of some dope house or the Colbert DA overseeing drug tests for probationers? No, Pilati was hands on, and probably for the adrenalin rush as much as any deviant pleasure he was accused of getting from his job.

A reader yesterday told of personal opposition of six FBI agents at Pilati's bar association hearing. Yet another reader has stated the opposite:

I've spoken to someone who was actually there. There was no FBI agents there. There were no opposition witnesses there at all. The only one opposition witness was Alice Martin who opposed via telephone. Pilati had 5-6 people testify FOR him, but no one was actually present to testify against him.

A third reader has replied:

Not sure who was at Pilati’s hearing in person, but I’m told there were numerous letters written and on file against him.

Now we have Pilati with rights restored, but no real law practice (he may use his legal expertise in other business activities); so did he benefit from having his political rights restored? Misdirection? Perhaps Pilati’s main thrust in seeking the restoration of his political rights wasn’t to resume a law practice? Perhaps it was to enable him to run for political office?

Pilati obviously has political connections. Would he desire to run for mayor? It’s a possibility, but that office is a thankless one filled with minutiae and bureaucracy. A more likely choice would be a run for the state house against Larry Stutts.

Would Pilati have a chance? We think he would…and he would fit right in.

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